It doesn’t take much to make a religion seem insane. Some weird practices, an eyebrow-raising backstory, they all have them. But Scientology took it to measures beyond any partially-educated person’s expectations. Invented in a time when people should have known better, Scientology has nevertheless grown incredibly huge in its 60+ years. And even with less than 50,000 members, its celebrity endorsers and alien-soul mythology are known the world over.
Going Clear is a documentary featuring numerous former Scientologists telling why they joined, what really went on behind closed doors, and ultimately what made them leave. Their reasons for joining are understandable: to become a better, stronger human being, and/or to overcome their deepest and most debilitating emotional baggage. But it’s the stories of abuse, extortion, emotional blackmail, and familial segregation that really bring this documentary into the light.
Starting with the religion’s inventor, L. Ron Hubbard, they begin with his life as a cheap science-fiction writer who ultimately creates a very science-fiction-y religion in 1954. As he becomes more well-known, he becomes more paranoid, not trusting anyone, including his own wife. The U.S. government begins investigating Hubbard’s organization, which forces him to go into hiding. As time goes on, his behavior becomes increasingly more erratic, and yet his followers protect him like a fragile deity. Not even his own wife is sure if he was extremely manipulative with people, or just completely insane.
The bulk of the documentary is told from the perspective of former members of the Church. Writer/Director Paul Haggis is given the most screen time, but I would say the most entertaining interviewee is actor Jason Beghe, who’s so colloquial and unafraid to drop the F-bomb that it makes his stories the most entertaining to hear. Other interviewees, like Marty Rathbun — current leader David Miscavige’s former Top Lieutenant — have some rather disgraceful stories to share that show just how corrupt Scientology can make a person.
Having already (rather obsessively) researched Scientology some time ago, this documentary was like a crash course in everything I’d learned. There’s so much more to learn on Youtube, and of course other websites and blogs, but this acts as an excellent starting point. You’ll never be able to unlearn the horrific stories these former members have to share. To call it shocking would be an understatement. This is more like getting slapped in the face by a volcano.
5 out of 5